Tears

Crying is the most manly of expression. It is a pure demonstration of the depth of your passion and emotion. Not crying means you don’t have the emotional depth to be hurt. Or that you’ve fully embraced stoicism.

Gender roles are not inherently bad. They’re clusters of traits and clusters are not inherently bad. I happen to object to drawing firm boundaries on loose clusters when enforcing such rules results in (1) individual suffering and (2) the loss of a beautiful diversity of possibilities. Often we find the sublime in random experimentation so I will not support a brutal pruning before the realization of that promise. Evaluate gender traits on their own merits and decide what works for you.

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Wang Wei

During my favorite dynasty, Chinese philosophy passed through a period called the Hundred Schools of Thought. What a fantastic time to be a scholar! Granted life for most people was fairly turbulent as the period was marked with weak political control, chaos, and war. Perhaps this is a necessary soil for producing such a rich diversity of thought. Each School of the period was attempting to construct a distinct system. They influenced each other though a cross-pollination of ideas and they influenced each other through conflict and argument. Experimentation was the order of the day. The Schools that survived from the period were strong enough that they still exist twenty-two hundred years later. It’s tragic that the same richness of thought didn’t survive through more peaceful times. I feel that organizations can be poisoned by a surfeit of agreement as surely as they can fall from a lack of internal unity.

Moving into my second favorite dynasty, we find a fantastic poet, Wang Wei. A half-remembered translation relayed in a conversation of his poem “A Song at Weicheng” first brought him to my attention.

“Wait, friend, and share another drink.
Tomorrow you’ll be past the mountains
and there will be no more
another drink, friend.”

It turns out that the original doesn’t literally translate to this in English. A professional translation is below.

“A morning-rain has settled the dust in Weicheng;
Willows are green again in the tavern dooryard….
Wait till we empty one more cup –
West of Yang Gate there’ll be no old friends.”

Translation is a tricky activity. Depending on how tight the rules you impose, many works are simply untranslatable because there’s no way to convey that same experience and meaning that a native speaker would hear. Word choice, rhythm, and references are some of the obvious difficulties to translate. So by necessity, I’ve been fairly comfortable with fairly loose translations – including reinterpretation. Which is mostly to say that I like the original version that I remembered, as wrong as it is to the purist. I would rather live in a  world where one hundred translations can exist and the audience can choose among them than live in a world where the Immortals decide the canonical translation.

If you’re interested in more Wang Wei, I’d recommend “Walking In Mountains In The Rain” (translated by David Young) to give a taste of his style.

Seeing Then Believing

A good diagram is a precious thing. Words are amazing workhorses but reading never stops being that acquired skill a semi-arcane technology. There’s translation effort there. Pictures leap into your head as if they were born there and we have effortless recall. Data visualization is a powerful way of aggregating a information and I have great respect for those who can do it well.

The canonical example for most school kids is the inscribed squares that show the proof of the Pythagorean theorem. Geometry and topology are full of these moments to the point that other branches of mathematics deride them for practicing “proof by picture”. But most people will probably find them impenetrable so let’s look at some of Seth Kadish’s work.

http://vizual-statistix.tumblr.com/post/80468941142/unlike-like-emperor-kuzco-i-was-actually-born

I loved wandering the streets in London. My home town is small and most of the few streets fall into a grid. The jogs in the road are where it dodges around some bit of forest or hill. Very few alleys, very few surprises. London was nothing but narrow winding roads and surprises. There were streets running parallel to each other separate by a single row of shops but you wouldn’t know if you had not glanced down that alley two intersections back. Four right turns may not leave you facing your original direction. I’ll never complete The Knowledge but if I lived there, the urge to map the place would be irresistible.

http://vizual-statistix.tumblr.com/post/86597730876/a-couple-months-ago-i-made-some-road-orientation

Consider our expectations of an ancient country’s boundaries. At its smallest level, it would arise naturally from divisions between neighboring tribes and villages. Since these presume a single central point, they would appear as a rough circle with jagged edges for natural features that make easier delimitation marks. Aggregating several of these together will deform the circle we’d expect to still be able to discern some small number of fixed central points. In fact, the cantons of Switzerland form more-or-less these shapes. Thus we expect that for self-determined countries, the graphs in the visualization above would form roughly the same shape as the continent for which they’re drawn. The long outliers are indicators that decisions about a border was not made at the local level. Assuming a continuous habitation of the entire landmass, this implies that people were not given a choice about which country they would join and so were never given the chance to agree to that countries version of a social contract.